First Indianapolis 500 controversy

Final results of the first Indianapolis 500 spark controversy.

Were you aware that the final results of the first Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911, sparked a controversy? Oh, don’t worry, Ray Harroun in the Marmon Wasp was the winner, but the rest of the results were not final until after 30 hours of investigative work produced the final standings.

1911 Marmon Wasp

Ray Harroun in the Marmon Wasp
Copyright © 1911 Motor Age

According to June 8, 1911, Motor Age Magazine account of the race, Ralph Mulford’s Lozier was only 1 minute and 43 seconds behind Harroun instead of being 4 minutes and 43 seconds. The revisions also showed Joe Dawson ranking fifth instead of his original ranking of not finishing. It was found that his Marmon had completed the final lap with engine trouble.

The crux of the controversy seems to be that the race was too long and too many cars started the race. The race recap stated “Had 150 miles been cut off the distance it would have been much better, and better still, had only 25 cars been allowed to start. With 25 starters it would have been possible for the timers to make sufficient announcements during the race so that the race could have been intelligently followed; with 25 starters team managers would have been able to get information on the number of laps their different cars made, which in many cases they were not able to get.” Motor Age concludes “Many felt this robbed the race of the great interest which is ever present when the spectators and all others know at all times exactly how the different cars are running.”

Another article in Motor Age highlights a different debate. “One feature that robbed this great spectacle of much interest was the fact that it was not a stock-car event.” In fact, purpose-built race cars were competing against lightly modified stock-cars. The article faults the Manufacturers’ Contest Association and the American Automobile Association stating, “Conditions of this nature discourage the sport and destroy public confidence in the sport.”

These articles are interesting to note in light of filtering events over many decades of telling the story.

In the future, I will include more contemporary content when I report events here at

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